India Pt 1: Learning Lessons

21 Dec
A tuk-tuk on a very quiet roadway in Delhi.

A tuk-tuk on a very quiet roadway in Delhi.

Rahul seemed like a nice chap when we met him.

The b0y and I were standing at a roundabout near Connaught Place in Delhi having freshly arrived from London. We had been standing there a while watching the throngs of never-ending traffic with frustration, wondering when we might be able to cross.

“Be careful,” said Rahul, appearing suddenly by my side. “The traffic is a bit crazy here.”

Smiling at us, the boy and I followed him as he weaved his way through the traffic while it paused for a second.

“England?” he asked, when we got to the other side, having felt we’d played a real-life game of Frogger.

“Yes, England,” the boy responded.

“Ah, I lived in London, is that where you’re from?” he continued.

“Yes, we’re from there,” I said.

I wouldn’t normally open up about my life to strangers but Rahul seemed a nice enough chap – well dressed with baseball cap on and a comfortable grasp of English, we spent another ten minutes walking around the beaten up and excavated Connaught Place, speaking about England, Bollywood and his movie date. We asked if he knew of any good restaurants nearby and, saying he didn’t, he added he knew a local tourist information office that would be able to provide us needed information. As we approached it, I instantly felt slightly wary – the outside was all falling apart and was obviously being renovated. Rahul went in for us and, emerging a minute later, said it was no problem – it was simply being redone.

Rahul headed off to his movie and girlfriend and we thanked him and wished him well. Inside, we met Rahim who said he’d tell us about Delhi’s sights. It wasn’t long before we started to get the hard sell about what tours we could do with his tour agency. Declining most, we said we’d return after a meal to discuss a potential quick jaunt out to Rajasthan.

Heading out into the warm evening, the boy and I felt unsure if we could trust the tourist agency – but we equally felt that with jet lag we were possibly being slightly harsh on what could just be nice people.

Connaught Place as it used to look pre-"renovation" (photo credit: delhitravel.org)

Connaught Place as it used to look pre-“renovation”        (photo credit: delhitravel.org)

We wandered around Connaught Place, surprised at its dereliction. Our guide book (the Lonely Planet 30th anniversary edition) had told us it was the most upmarket area with lots of nice restaurants and shopping areas. As it was our first night, we’d taken the tuk-tuk up specifically because it seemed an easy first choice and we were exhausted. Instead, we found ripped up streets, excavators on every corner, hazardous holes with no signage and (later on) many people doing crack in the alleyways.

We read menus at a few restaurants finally choosing United Coffee House – a more up-market locale with suited waiters, a doorman and lovely, Raj-era interior decor. It was pricy but we decided to treat ourselves for our first night in the city until we became more acquainted with it.

And I’m ever so glad we did – it was definitely one of our best meals in Delhi. I recall little (given the waves of jet lag washing over me at the time meant I wasn’t up for making notes) but we had some gorgeous chickpeas in a rich, spicy sauce, lovely lamb and fresh cold beers. It was expensive – around £23 for the meal – but we were so happy to finally be in India that we couldn’t have cared less.

After our huge meal, we wandered back over to the tourist office to check in with Rahim. Seeing us return, his eyes lit up and he was soon trying to talk us into going to Rajasthan. I wouldn’t have minded – in fact, it was an area I was sad we hadn’t planned on going to – but the fact he was really trying to hard sell us made me keep my guard up. Another 20 minute conversation followed after which – with me giving “I don’t know about this” starey signals to the boy – we said we’d be back the next day to finally make our plans.

I'm usually pretty intuitive when it comes to scames, unlike Dilbert.

I’m usually pretty intuitive when it comes to scams, unlike Dilbert.

A tuk-tuk ride back to the place we were staying – a shared apartment in the nice Nizamuddin East area found through my favourite accommodation site, airbnb – followed and, in eagerness, I opened up my Lonely Planet book to see if it talked of any scams. Sure enough, it warned of friendly looking, English speaking, young men who direct tourists to travel agencies and get a referral fee.

Trying to keep my cynicism at bay, I left it in my mind that maybe it was just coincidence. Until the next night that is when – unsure where else to go for a late night dinner – we headed back to Connaught Place and, outside of a bar, saw both the Rahul and Rahim drinking beers.

“Hey Englishman,” they yelled to us, laughing.

It was a lesson all around (and a bit of a sad one at that). But at least Lonely Planet was right for once – something we did not find so frequently in the weeks to come.

In Part 2, the boy and I head to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal and get accosted by both a “security guard” and a monkey.

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One Response to “India Pt 1: Learning Lessons”

  1. gnuboss February 1, 2013 at 11:16 am #

    Sometimes when you’re traveling it’s easy to get swindled – your mind is so busy that sometimes you don’t notice the details or trust your instincts….. and it often comes back to bite you in the butt.

    Fortunately, delaying a decision always gives you time to calm down, clear your head and room to process the situation and make a good decision. Glad it worked out for you.

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